May 01, 2003


 Letting the future catch you

Posted April 15, 2003

Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, believes that you should constantly look over your shoulder to see who might be creating something new that could destroy your organization. Then, stay one step ahead to survive.

According to Dr. Lonnie King, dean of Michigan State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, this is exactly how swine veterinarians should be thinking. Dr. King delivered the Howard Dunne Memorial Lecture at the recent AASV meeting, March 8-11, in Orlando, Fla.

Dr. King believes the very fundamentals of swine medicine are changing. He defined five basic shifts and cautioned audience members to prepare themselves for change.

The first shift, Dr. King said, is one from a national market that is commodity-focused to a global market, which is much more value-added and niche-market focused. "Because most of the world's population and future growth will take place in developing countries, the global demand for meat is projected to increase by 60 percent by 2020," he said.

The second change is from an emphasis on production increases to one on the social acceptance of pork products and their production. Consumers have concerns about animal welfare and environmental issues, and they are becoming more interested in organically produced foods, Dr. King said.

Veterinarians also need to be mindful of a shift from animal agriculturists having a privileged class status to one of a lesser status. Dr. King coined this "the debunking of the agrarian myth," caused by a public increasingly out of touch with agriculture.

Envisioning food as a health promoter, and not just sustenance, is a fourth shift. Scientific advances in transgenic animals will usher in a new era in which animal products may be used exclusively as medicines and treatments, Dr. King argued, speaking about the rise of an "agriceutical" industry. The possibility of xenotransplantation is another example. These changes will involve intense efforts to educate the public as to their merit, he said.

And the final change Dr. King foresees is one in the perception of swine veterinarians and producers as public health advocates. Veterinarians should be seen as protectorates against zoonotic outbreaks as well as agroterrorism attacks.

To be able to handle these shifts, Dr. King recommends reinventing the 21st century swine veterinarian. "When you are on a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount," he said. The solution is not to continue on a treadmill of producing hogs faster and faster. "Step back and reassess your personal and professional pathways into the future," he said.

Dr. King believes veterinarians can add value for their clients and expand professional capabilities by acquiring new skills and becoming involved in new activities. These include, to name a few, becoming an animal welfare adviser, food safety expert, biosecurity planner, population health expert, and public health advocate. Veterinarians, Dr. King said, need to focus on improving communication skills, partnering with government agencies, conducting environmental scans of the entire commodity chain, and training and teaching producers.

"I am not here to give you all the answers," concluded Dr. King, "but will suggest that the future is catching you, so there is a sense of urgency."